In July 2015, the Home Secretary issued a report to Parliament in response to recommendations published by the House of Lords in the second report from the Select Committee on Extradition: UK Law and Practice. This committee was established in March 2014 to conduct post-legislative scrutiny into the law and practice relating to extradition. (Please see our blog: House of Lords: Extradition report published).
The Home Office report covers a number of key issues dealt with by the Lords including human rights bar and assurances; proportionality; forum; legal advice and legal aid; and countries of concern (Part 2 countries). There are a number of key areas where it refutes the Lord’s committee assertions.
The Lords, though recognising that many of the UK’s existing arrangements are satisfactory, stated that the system of seeking, accepting and monitoring assurances during the extradition process “cannot guarantee” the UK is meeting its human rights obligations. Appearing to dodge the portrayal of the system as “flawed”, the Home Office reiterates that the courts are best placed to consider human rights issue, and referred to a review the Home Secretary is conducting on the issue of assurances. It confirms that it viewed the provision of information relating to rights and entitlements of those subject to extradition as sufficient.
The Home Office also disagrees with the Lords that it is “too soon” to come to a view on the effectiveness of the forum bar. It rejects the view that a wider interests of justice test might better balance the rights of the individual against that of the prosecution. Underlining that the Government is “confident” that this has improved transparency in cases of concurrent jurisdiction it confirms that the forum bar is working “as envisaged”.
The Lords called for the extension of the proportionality bar to cover conviction cases, to limit the number of EAWS issuedin trivial cases, with adequate resourcing of the National Crime Agency to deal with this. The Home Office however rejected any proposal to extend the proportionality provisions to conviction cases and confirms it believes the NCA to be adequately resourced.
Indeed, it may be the sheer scale of cases that prompted the recent Times article reporting on how judges at the Westminster magistrates court were overwhelmed. Quoting Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle, the senior district judge dealing with extradition, the article reported on a backlog of about 620 cases with deadlines rarely met.
The article reports that the number of cases since the Extradition Act came into force in 2004 increased “40-fold” to 2,200 by 2013. It may be this expansion that prompted the Home Office to state that greater use should be made of “alternatives to extradition”.
Unsurprisingly it is the question of resources that has created heated debate. The Lords committee called on the Government to re-examine its decision to means test legal aid in extradition cases. It condemned the Government’s most recent cost-benefit analysis as “neither sufficient nor credible.” In response the Home Office emphatically states that it “rejects any assertion that the means testing of criminal legal aid is fundamentally inconsistent with the timely progress of extradition hearings at City of Westminster Magistrates’ court”. It will not undertake a more detailed cost-benefit analysis.
The response of the Home Office to the Lords sheds light on a number of key issues. We await with interest the publication of further reports by the Home Office and European Commission on the operation of the Extradition regime in the Autumn.